Some people think that exercise triggers migraines.

This recent online survey demonstrates that the belief is widespread enough amongst women to make many of them avoid exercise for fear of triggering or worsening migraines:

Social concerns about anxiety sensitivity were associated with stronger expected likelihood of vigorous-intensity physical activity as a triggering and worsening factor in migraine.

Does exercise trigger migraines?

  • I have focussed the question in response to the (now deleted) comments. In particular, "good for migraines" is unclear, so the question is now about triggering migraines (presumably in susceptible people). The study successfully shows the claim is notable, but isn't evidence that the claim is true or not.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 18:01
  • A dead-end: This 2014 paper lists exercise as a trigger in a table "adapted" from Table 1 in this 1998 paper which DOES NOT list it as a trigger! It, in turn references this 1992 paper which looks like it wasn't strong enough to make too many conclusions.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 18:11

1 Answer 1


American Migraine Foundation mentions that stress can be a trigger of a migraine attack in almost 70% of sufferers. A heavy exercise at an inappropriate time can act as a stressor, while regular moderate exercise can act as a stress reliever (Migrainetrust).

Below are conclusions of 2 recent reviews of studies.

The association between migraine and physical exercise (The Journal of Headache and Pain, 2018):

In conclusion, it seems that although exercise can trigger migraine attacks, regular exercise may have prophylactic effect on migraine frequency. This is most likely due to an altered migraine triggering threshold in persons who exercise regularly.

Physical exercise and migraine: for or against? (Annals of Translational Medicine, 2018):

Literature-based recommendations on physical activity and migraine:

  • Regular moderate aerobic physical exercise (>40 min, 3 times per week) seems effective to reduce both severity and frequency of migraine attacks.
  • Since exercising may sometimes worsen migraine, be engaged in physical exercise during a migraine attack must be established on an individual basis, according to the personal history of exercise-provoked migraine.
  • High-intensity exercise should be avoided in patients with a history of exercise-provoked migraine.

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